French onion soup, family, and food being more than its flavour - Alexander Brown

Not to be dramatic, but this week I enjoyed a soup more than most of the things I have ever eaten.

This is absurd for several reasons, most obviously because soup is not something anyone sane wakes up excited to have.

That’s not to say I don’t like it, a leek and potato in the winter with bread and butter at a one to one ratio is a starter for the ages, but it is undeniably still just soup.

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The occasion was my mum’s birthday, so I had taken her and my dad to a French restaurant, where naturally I had a French onion soup, with cheesy bread croutons floating on top of it.

French onion soup brought back memories. Picture: Getty ImagesFrench onion soup brought back memories. Picture: Getty Images
French onion soup brought back memories. Picture: Getty Images

That limited description suggests it was just a food to be consumed, when it was so much wonderfully more.

At this juncture I must confess that, actually, despite all this, I don’t particularly love French onion soup.

Onions are obviously a great base for making a sauce, particularly with white wine and tomatoes, but nobody has ever felt a craving for or gone to a restaurant specifically for an onion.

Yet I felt a love for it I usually save for problematic women, envisaging a long-term future where I and this soup take care of each other until we grow old.

This was not for its flavour, however wonderful, but instead for its connotations and how it made me feel.

Growing up my family and I would go on holiday to France and enjoy set menu lunches where my dad would choose French onion soup, followed by steak and frites.

Wanting to be like my dad, close to my dad, and eat like my dad, I would naturally follow suit.

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He would have his steak bloody, and so would I. He would burn his mouth on soup, and so would I. He would spend the whole trip reading about Tottenham, and so would I.

This soup took me back to that time, those foreign holidays as a family, where I didn’t worry about calling my flat “home” instead of my parents’ house.

All these years on, older, greyer, and not particularly wiser, I was ordering a French onion soup with my dad in a French restaurant while talking excitedly to my mum.

The meal was not about the food, it was about how it made me feel, the nostalgia and memories lying in its thick caramelised goodness.

Food is so much more than its flavour, even now I find comfort in things not because they are so much more delicious than the alternative, but the thoughts they conjure, the small moments I associate with them.

Butter and jam on bread is not just a snack, it’s coming home from school to my mum making me two slices and having one with her in the kitchen before fleeing for a Simpsons and Star Trek double bill.

Grated parmesan is not just easier, it’s the mountains of the stuff my grandma would leave in a bowl for us to drown our bolognese in at her Manchester home.

The joys of food are not just in its taste, but how it makes us feel.

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This meal was growing up with my parents, the joys of what’s come before, and once again making memories with a French onion soup.



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